In the ongoing adventures of my state of mind:
I’ve been catching myself doing something I’ve decided to call “sawing.” It goes a little something like this. If the thoughts we think help construct our material reality (because those thoughts reflect beliefs, beliefs create actions, actions create character, character creates who we are in the world and the decisions we make, etc.), then we would do well to attend to the thoughts we are thinking, and to change the ones that perpetuate realities we don’t want to manifest in our lives. And if the thoughts we repeatedly think affect our actual brain chemistry, as the brain scientists tell us, then thoughts have a chemical dimension, a biological expression, as it were. We know, for example, that rumination is not just a product of but actually a creator of depression. Likewise, fear thoughts perpetuate anxiety because they trigger hormones that prepare us to fight or flee. And so on with angry, happy, sexual, etc.
I have ample evidence of all this being true in my own life. (Caveat: I don’t believe thoughts alone create all of everyone’s life circumstances; no one thinks their way into a birth defect or life on a destitute reservation, for example. But there is such a thing as a poverty mentality.) And so I’ve put a lot of practices into my life that help me notice and where possible reshape my thoughts in more positive directions.
But when I’m worn down, or my self-esteem is floundering, or I’m sleep deprived (i.e., most of this summer)…that’s when the sawing begins. My thought-filter weakens and a thought creeps in like an insect. And it starts sawing.
Let’s take I’m always alone.
Ok, I’m not always alone. In fact, I often am surrounded with good company. I’ve been spending most days with my friend Lisa, working on our books together–which is a huge blessing. I have family in Denver that I love, and family in California that I can call anytime. I have amazing friends who love and take care of me, and who make all the difference in my life. I have a partner that I adore who, despite the rough ride she’s been on in the last year and a half, is a loving presence in my life. I also have students, mentees, neighbors, and acquaintances I could get to know better as friends if I chose to. Also: I, unlike a lot of people I know, actually enjoy spending time alone and feel agitated when I haven’t had enough of it. Alone is not my enemy.
And yet I come home from some day of doing stuff with other people and I am always alone gets in my head. It starts sawing a groove. I make something to eat. Always. I call someone who doesn’t answer. Alone. I sit at my desk and respond to some emails. Paco pads in to the office and flops down, purring. Right in the middle of an ordinary task: Oh god! Why am I always alone? Maybe I turn on some music, or go in the backyard and do some gardening. I’m not trying to avoid the thoughts, just doing things I enjoy. But maybe I’m tired from a long day, and some other worries are floating around in my head. Somehow that perpetuates the sawing. The ugly thought–which I realize is not only a thought but factually untrue–settles into its back and forth groove. It looks for evidence to prove that I have been or always am alone. It builds an argument. It makes a case. And, worst of all, it begins attracting emotional energy around it–a pool of sadness under my sternum, a kryptonite ball in the belly.
I try to build a shield in my mind, to catch the thought and “weed” it up before it can express again. Each time it tries to run its groove, I pluck it first. Sometimes that works, but if I’m tired, if I haven’t slept enough, it just saws and I don’t know how to stop it.
The only solutions I’ve found so far: 1) yoga, 2) sleep medicine, 3) reading (if I can concentrate), and 4) noticing, and naming, the sawing. And telling the thought that it doesn’t have permission. And trying to love the poor self that’s struggling with the thought.
What do you do?